17 May 1536 – The tragic executions of five innocent men

Posted By on May 17, 2018

On this day in history, 17th May 1536, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton and George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were escorted from the Tower of London up to the scaffold on Tower Hill to be executed for high treason.

They had all been sentenced to a full traitor’s death, i.e. to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but the king, in his ‘mercy’, had commuted their sentences to death by beheading. It might not seem very merciful to us, but at least beheading was usually quick, compared to the lengthy pain and suffering of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

You can read more about their executions by clicking here but here is a video by Clare Cherry, co-author of George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat, about the five men.

“And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!
The axe is home, your heads be in the street;
The trickling tears doth fall so from my eyes
I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.
But what can hope when death hath played his part,
Though nature’s course will thus lament and moan?
Leave sobs therefore, and every Christian heart
Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.”
(Sir Thomas Wyatt)

Also on this day in 1536, the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was annulled – click here to read more.

Picture: Tower Hill Scaffold Memorial, photo by Tim Ridgway.